THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL
Review by Gordon Justesen
Reeves, Jennifer Connelly, Jaden Smith, John Cleese, Jon Hamm, Kathy Bates
Director: Scott Derrickson
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: See Review
Length: 104 Minutes
Release Date: April 7, 2009
“We can’t risk the survival of this planet for the sake of one species.”
“What are you saying?”
“If the Earth dies, you die. If you die, the Earth survives. There are only a handful of planets in the cosmos that are capable of supporting complex life.”
I’ve just now realized that it has been a while since I graced you readers with a negative review. As much as I love to write glowing words in the many positive pieces I write time and time again, I find myself always grateful to the few not-so-good films that come my way. After all, it’s important for any film reviewer to showcase diverse opinions.
And while the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still is nowhere near the level of god-awful, it does serve as one of the more disappointing movies of the past year. While I knew there was no way in the world (no pun intended) that it would come close to the potent power of the original 1951 classic, I nonetheless grew excited about the remake after seeing the trailer. I felt that if the film could be re-imagined, with visual effects that couldn’t have been pulled off 58 years ago, the result might add up to something quite memorable.
Sure enough, the first forty minutes of the movie had me hooked and believing that a most stellar remake of a great film was unfolding before me. But then the rest of the movie kicked in, and what resulted was an unfortunately mediocre film. It’s always a downer when a movie starts off with such a bang, only to leave the viewer with a feeling of “meh” when the end credits start to roll.
The new version starts off promisingly enough, as Harvard science professor, Dr. Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly), is summoned by the government, along with several other noted scientists, to study a mysterious glowing sphere that has arrived in Central Park. No one is sure what has brought this object to our world or why it has come to Earth in the first place. Nevertheless, the scientists approach the sphere hoping to make contact with some type of life form.
Sure enough, two things emerge from the sphere. The first is an alien being that causes the military to open fire (why wouldn’t they?). The second is a giant robotic counterpart to the alien, which fans of the original will instantly recognize as GORT (Genetically Organized Robotic Technology), who immediately heals the alien after being shot.
This is quite a marvelous sequence both in tension buildup and visual effects. The one superior thing the remake has over the original is the appearance of GORT, which nearly made my jaw hit the floor. While it’s easy to take a practical looking robot character from the early 50s and glam it up with contemporary effects, it’s also easy for it to look extremely corny, but the effects work on GORT is absolutely stunning!
The alien soon develops human tissue and introduces itself as Klaatu (a well cast Keanu Reeves). He reveals to the President’s aide (Kathy Bates), that he would like to address the United Nations. She refuses his request, and orders Helen to drug him so they can interrogate him. But Helen, believing Klaatu to be peaceful, purposefully injects him with an alternative drug which allows him to escape during a polygraph test (another terrific sequence).
Once Klaatu makes his escape and finds himself amongst the Earthlings, the movie basically starts to fall apart in more ways than one. From that point on, we basically get a number of scenes involving the government making one bone headed decision after another, as it repeatedly orders the military to find ways to destroy GORT, even though it has given off zero signs of a threat. Can we for once have an alien invasion movie where the government and military are depicted as complete idiots?
As for the main storyline, which involves Klaatu’s careful observation of the human race as he decides the fate of the Earth, it simply isn’t as gripping or involving as it was in the original. And the decision to put an environmental twist on the story didn’t really help either, though I respect the idea of an environmental themed end of the world movie, which is illustrated by the brilliant WALL*E. But as such movies go, this movie is still a masterpiece compared to The Happening.
However, what made the original movie so potent was the main storyline involving Klaatu basing his decision on the planet’s fate on simple human interaction, as well as the legendary final speech he delivers to the human race. Here, his final decision seems to be based on convincing from Helen and her stepson whom he’s saddled with through most of the movie.
And that leads to perhaps my biggest complaint of the movie, which is the performance from Jaden Smith as the stepson, Jacob. It pretty much sinks the entire movie, because the character isn’t very likable to begin with and he spends most of the movie whining, whining and finally, more whining. There’s a crucial moment near the end of the movie, where in which the fate of the world is about to be decided, and Jacob all of a sudden decides to throw an emotional hissy fit about the fact that his father is dead and he misses him. What?
Plus, if one is expecting sequences of major destruction on the level of Independence Day or The Day After Tomorrow, prepared to be sorely disappointed. There are only a few such scenes towards the end of the movie, but they feel random and completely underwhelming. And having just seen the amazing disaster scenes in Knowing, the sequences in The Day the Earth Stood Still feel even more lifeless.
The potential for a top-notch remake was there, but in the end The Day the Earth Stood Still adds up to nothing more than a failed opportunity. The first half showcased so much promise and effort that it only helps to illustrate how the lackluster second half runs the movie into the ground. Luckily, we still have the classic original to remind us that a superior version of the story exists.
However, the amazing Blu-ray presentation from Fox is pretty much a terrific reason to check out the movie, because it’s pretty damn spectacular. In fact, it’s pretty much one of the most incredible HD presentations I’ve seen this year. Most of the movie takes place at night or in darkened areas, and yet the picture is able to deliver amazing detail throughout, along with some fantastic colors. The 1080p also delivers incredibly on the visual effects, which look nothing short of astonishing in the presentation.
Equal marks for the stunning audio presentation, which is remarkable from beginning to end. Sci-fi is a genre that was made to shine on Blu-ray, particularly in the realm of sound. Thus, the DTS HD mix will flat out astound your ears in so many ways. The sound associated with the many effects sequences roars through the channels so furiously, you’ll wonder if the level of destruction has reached your living room. Music and dialogue delivery are also handled tremendously well!
Fox has done an incredible job with extras on this 3-Disc Blu-ray release. On Disc One, we get the bulk of the extras, starting with starting with two Blu-ray exclusives; a Picture In Picture Bonusview titled “Klaatu's Unseen Artifacts” and an Interactive feature called “Build Your Own Gort”. There’s also a commentary with screenwriter David Scarpa, Deleted Scenes, a documentary titled “Re-Imagining The Day”, three additional featurettes including “Unleashing Gort”, “Watching The Skies: In Search Of Extraterrestrial Life” and “The Day The Earth Was Green”. Lastly, we get Still Galleries and D-Box Control, which is a BD Live-like feature.
Disc Two contains a bonus Digital Copy version of the movie.
Finally, Disc Three contains a real treat; a bonus Blu-ray copy of the original 1951 movie!
Though the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still does have a very good first half and advantages over the original as far as visual effects go, the power of the central storyline is lost in the end. I give the filmmakers points for trying, but ultimately the end results do leave more than a bit to be desired.